Common Errors in Vertical Lists

Employing vertical lists, which display related sets of words, phrases, or sentences entered on separate lines and marked with bullets (dots or other symbols), numbers, or letters to clarify the organizational scheme, is a sensible strategy for presenting numerous or complex details that would otherwise clutter a sentence. (An in-line list, a sequence of such … Read more

Democracy, Aristocracy, Plutocracy

The English suffix –ocracy derives from a Greek word for “power,” “rule,” or “authority.” Six examples of such words are aristocracy, autocracy, democracy, kakistocracy,theocracy and plutocracy. Some of the terms overlap. Aristocracy Literally, an aristocracy is “rule by the best citizens.” In theory, the best citizens (IMHO) would be the most intelligent, best-educated, and most … Read more

The Use of “They” for Gender Identity

Merriam-Webster recently announced that it has provided an additional sense in the definition for the pronoun they: “used to refer to a single person whose gender identity is nonbinary.” What does this mean? First, two more definitions: Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary defines “gender identity” as “a person’s internal sense of being male, female, some combination of … Read more

Is ’til a Contraction of Until?

A curious request for a post has come across my desk: Please discuss the misuse of “till” for the contraction “’til”. The best place to begin is with the term contraction. As applied to speech, a contraction is the contracting or shortening of a word or a syllable by omitting or combining some elements. For … Read more

How to Write Concise, Active Sentences

One of the most valuable results of revising one’s writing (or inviting another person to do so) is leaner, more active prose. Review written content with the objectives of reducing the number of words in a sentence and using stronger, more direct syntax. (Accomplishing the latter occasionally increases rather than reduces sentence length, but attack … Read more

Worshipped and Worshipping Revisited

A recent comment on a past post, “Worshiping and Kidnapping” made me doubt my sanity: You note that Merriam-Webster lists worshiped and worshiping as preferred spellings in the US, but my M-W app lists the double-consonant spelling first. Which should I recommend to an American writer whose readers are also American? In my post, “Worshiping … Read more

5 Types of Case and Punctuation Problems with Quotations

The following sentences demonstrate issues writers confront when they write sentences that incorporate quotations that are not framed with attribution (phrasing that identifies the source of the quotation, such as “he said” or “she writes”). Each example is followed by a discussion of the problem in the sentence and a solution. 1. The consultant’s answer … Read more

Adverb Placement

A reader wants to know “if there is a rule for the proper placement of an adverb in sentence structure.” The general rule with adverbs is to place the adverb as close as possible to the word being modified. Most adverbs can go in one of three positions in a sentence. First position (before the … Read more